« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »

272 posts from October 2011

October 29, 2011

New York gives warm welcome to Genting with revival of Aqueduct racetrack

NEW YORK -- What’s that old stereotype about New Yorkers being a rude bunch to outsiders? That may or may not be true when it comes to your average tourist, but these days it’s certainly false if you’re a transnational multi-billion-dollar casino conglomerate rolling into town.

Malaysia’s Genting Group — which wants to build a mega casino resort in Miami — opened its first U.S. gambling complex on Friday, in the shadow of John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens. Though the morning weather was in the chilly low 40s, the reception from both the community and the powers-that-be was warm.

The casino’s 1,350 new permanent jobs were one reason for this Big Apple hospitality, but history was also a factor.

Unlike in Miami, where Genting has sparked intense debate over plans to build the world’s largest casino if it can get a gambling license, the company’s new Resorts World New York City development is on a site that has accepted horse-racing bets for more than a century: the storied Aqueduct racetrack.

Perhaps even more important: New York political leaders have tried for a decade to lure slot machines to the aging track. A mixture of state financial meltdowns, a bankruptcy of the state’s horse-racing association, and a pre-Genting casino competition marred by scandal all combined to continually thwart those plans. Story here. 

Casino magnates & analysts offer conflicting views of Miami's casino potential

Casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn disagree on at least one thing: Miami’s potential to emerge as a Las Vegas East.

The two CEOs famous for outlandish Vegas hotels and oversized personalities both have their eyes on opening massive new resorts in the Miami area should Florida loosen gambling laws. But in recent remarks to investment analysts, Adelson and Wynn take opposite positions on how much new gambling tourism Miami can support.

Adelson, the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands casino company, sees Miami capable of supporting a single casino resort. But Wynn, who named his signature 4,750-room Vegas property after himself, describes Miami as a place where competing casinos can thrive.

Meanwhile, analysts at Bernstein, a leading watcher of gambling stocks, this week questioned whether South Florida could sustain three mega resorts. The company warned that Las Vegas could lose as much as 15 percent of its business to South Florida if the Sunshine State allows three new casino resorts to open in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area. It also said it was unlikely they would produce the kind of revenue needed -- $7 billion a year -- to compete with the Seminole Tribe and existing casinos.

Read the Bernstein report here. Download Florida Gaming Our story is here.

County officials criticize casino plan for failing to protect local jobs

An array of opponents, from South Florida to the state capital, has lined up swiftly in response to proposed legislation to bring gigantic “destination resort” casinos to South Florida, despite promises of economic development and an infusion of jobs.

The Miami-Dade County Commission was ready to slice the bill to shreds earlier this week as it spent three hours reviewing it and getting public reaction. Meanwhile, others criticized the bill as too light on regulation and incomplete when it comes to policing casinos.

The County Commission decided to send a letter to the sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, demanding they give local government more control over the mega-resorts, allow the county to get a share of the revenue, and carve out protections for the region’s pari-mutuel industry. Absent that, the bill could face their collective opposition, commissioners warned.

“What this means is that you have no say,’’ Commission Chairman Joe Martinez told his colleagues after the county attorney read summaries of the bill. “What this means is that the money does not stay here.”

Dave Ramba, a lobbyist for the Broward County-based Seminole Tribe, questioned why the bill took two months to produce since legislators left the job of writing the regulatory rules to a new seven-member State Gaming Commission and a new Department of Gaming Enforcement.

“They spent a lot of time on the creation of more government and very little time on what the commission’s job is going to be,’’ he said.

But Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, and Fresen, a Miami Republican, said Friday their intent was not to release a perfect bill but to get the conversation started and have the debate over modifications aired in the open.

“I anticipated I would have to wear a bull’s-eye on my back — as well as Rep. Fresen — because there will be 100,000 people shooting at this bill,’’ Bogdanoff told the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau. More here.

October 28, 2011

Judges, clerks recommend solutions for funding problems

A workgroup of a dozen county clerks and judges published recommendations on Friday for stabilizing unreliable revenue sources for the courts and clerks systems.

One not very new idea for the courts: move judges' salaries into the state's general revenue fund and out of what has proven a volatile trust fund.

"It’s a constitutional guarantee that the state makes to the people of the state," said Lisa Goodner, state courts administrator.

The Supreme Court certifies the need for judges for the Legislature, which gets to decide the number of judges to prescribe. The report argues "it would be inappropriate to tie that process to the revenue in a trust fund."

The courts have struggled to support their budgets as mortgage foreclosure filings decline. Chief Justice Charles Canady has frequently asked for mult-million dollar loan transfers to fund basic operations due to the shortfall. About 83 percent of the entire courts system is funded by fees collected in the trial courts.

According to the workgroup's report, clerks and courts could share a new trust fund funded by fines and fees to be administered each month by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The "core court system" trust fund would then be divvied into the clerks' trust fund and the start courts' trust fund to pay for operations.

Continue reading "Judges, clerks recommend solutions for funding problems" »

Court rejects state's request to expedite voting law challenge

A panel of federal judges today rejected a request by Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning to expedite a ruling on the lawsuit challenging the state's changes to its voting laws. Download Fla v USA 55 Order on motion to expedite

"We're disappointed that the court could not accommodate our schedule," said Browning's spokesman, Chris Cate. "We look forward to the opportunity for making the case than none of Florida's election laws are discriminatory."
 
The reason the state is pressing the federal government for a quick resolution is the accelerated political calendar. A panel of legislative appointees has set Florida's presidential preference primary for Jan. 31, 2012, but the last day that people can register to vote to be able to cast ballots in that election will be Jan. 3, 2012.
 
If the legal issues surrounding the election law rewrite aren't settled by then, the state will be in the awkward position of not having major changes to the laws pre-cleared as they affect five counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.

From the ACLU's press release:

Continue reading "Court rejects state's request to expedite voting law challenge" »

Proposal to ban abortion will return for 2012 session, state rep says

Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant will introduce his twice-failed "Florida for Life Act" during the 2012 legislative session, a proposal that bans abortion in nearly every circumstance.

The bill returns Florida law on abortion to its state before Roe v. Wade, Van Zant said in an interview today. It provides an exception when a pregnancy puts a mother’s life at risk.

His bill died without a hearing or a Senate sponsor in 2011, even as the Republican-dominated Legislature passed four other abortion-related measures, including one that requires women be given the opportunity to view an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

Why does Van Zant think this session will be any different?

"I have higher hopes because many of us have been praying more about it," said Van Zant, a Keystone Heights architect with a master's degree in divinity.

Continue reading "Proposal to ban abortion will return for 2012 session, state rep says" »

Team Scott pushes back on tax incentives for businesses

One of Gov. Rick Scott's top economic development officers this morning refused to characterize the state's tax incentive programs that data shows are creating just one of every three jobs that companies promise.

Gray Swoope, Scott's handpicked Enterprise Florida CEO cautioned against making broad judgments about the incentive programs by looking at a database of more than 1,500 projects and instead said the programs should be judged individually and on a contract-by-contract basis.

"Incentives will never make a bad deal good," Swoope said. "It will only make a good deal better."

A Department of Economic Opportunity database shows incentives from 11 different funds, all of which have different objectives, Swoope said. Some funds, such as the Quick Action Closing Fund, are meant to have immediate impact on job creation or retention, he said. Others are supposed to create long-term impact need given decades to work.

Swoope said the trouble with Florida's incentive funds has been a confusing process where too many agencies controlled different funds. "It's the process," Swoope said.

To address that issues, lawmakers this year created the Department of Economic Opportunity for Scott and almost $100 million in incentives. Records show the state has entered into deals with at least 67 companies in the past year, most under Scott's watch.

But lawmakers gave Scott those tools after stressing the importance of making a return on the taxpayers' investment. Sen. Don Gaetz said Monday that if companies aren't making good on their promises, they should return the state's money.

Swoope said the state gets a return on its investment even if the company only creates a fraction of the jobs it intended, because most of the contracts only pay out as companies meet certain goal.

"If you don't perform, you receive nothing," Swoope said. "It's very clear."

At least one fund pays companies before any jobs are created. There are at least six companies that have been paid more than $35 million but not produced their promised jobs. The Times/Herald was told that the state could take action against companies not meeting the goals in their contracts. But Swoope said this morning that those companies approached the state about regotiating their contracts to allow for more time.

"There are good procedures in place that protect the state," Swoope said.

Gambling expert: Cuba will have casinos in 10 years

Just as China's Macao exploded with casinos when monopoly control of gaming ended in 2002, so too will gaming explode in communist Cuba after the death of Castro, predicts gambling law expert Nelson I. Rose. His intriquing essay was written after President Obama announced he would ease restrictions on travel to Cuba early this year.

Here's the top of his piece. Read more here, from his website, www.gamblingandthelaw.com

Continue reading "Gambling expert: Cuba will have casinos in 10 years" »

PolitiFact Florida: Gov. Scott says I-95 toll roads improved rush hour speeds for drivers who didn't pay

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a big fan of interviews from friendly talk radio stations, used an Oct. 10, 2011, chat with a Daytona Beach host to discuss prudent investments for the state amid another big budget shortfall.

(Well, after saying Florida doesn't need more anthropologists, which created an uproar within the academic community. And after disputing that he's changed how he will measure his promise to create 700,000 private-sector jobs, which PolitiFact Florida gave a full-flop. Moving on ...)

Scott pointed to improving state ports in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion, cargo rail and adding more toll roads across the state to support new construction projects. In his comments to host Marc Bernier, Scott said the state can designate toll lanes on federal highways as long as the state adds a new lane, and he cited changes to Interstate 95 as an example of how it can work well.

"We did that down in Broward County," he said. "It took the rush-hour traffic for the non-tolled lanes from 25 mph to 45 (mph). So for people not paying the toll it was a big benefit. We're going to start doing that across the state."

Scott's claim that express lanes improved rush-hour traffic for all drivers is interesting, especially given his signal that he wants to expand tolling statewide. He repeated the point a week later in an interview on Tampa Bay's WFLA-AM 970. We thought it wise to check his evidence.

Check it out.

October 27, 2011

PolitiFact Florida puts U.S. Rep. Connie Mack news through the Flip-O-Meter

On whether U.S. Rep. Connie Mack would run for U.S. Senate in 2012:

"The time is not right for me," Mack said. "You have to put family and friends above political ambitions, and that is what I have done."
—March 25, 2011, Fort Myers News-Press

"Connie Mack is running for the U.S. Senate. ...," said David James, a senior adviser.
—Oct. 26, 2011, Miami Herald

Mack has yet to make an official announcement. But an adviser speaking for him says he'll be running for the seat that less than a year ago he declared he wouldn't pursue for the sake of his "two small children." PolitiFact Florida ran his statements through the Flip-O-Meter.